The Ultimate Survival Guide: What to Pack in your Carry On!

February 15, 2017

What bag should you use as your carry on?

So I think I have tried almost every bag out there as a potential carry on companion. For me,  a shoulder bag, with a zipper, that can easily be placed in front of and across my body, is the best choice. I also try and make the bag big enough so that it can hold all my things. But  I don’t want the bag so big that my back hurts and I feel like I need a wheelchair (No one likes feeling like an old lady on vacation. That and the hunchback look is not in vogue).

Before I decide what to pack in my carry on, I have to choose a bag. I usually use a shoulder bag like this, with a sipper. Only my carry on is usually a bit bigger.

I emphasize what bag to choose because I feel like the type of bag you use is just as important as what to pack in your carry on. This stems from the fact that you will carry this bag with you throughout your entire trip. And it will hold some of the most valuable things you have, like your wallet, passport, cell phone, etc.

So choose wisely when considering a carry on because above all, you want to make sure that you can keep your valuables safe from theft. I learned this lesson the hard way, when I had my wallet stolen out of my bright pink backpack, while touring Barcelona. I have since learned that carry on bags should be kept in front of you at all times, a task that is more easily done with a shoulder bag. Your bag should also be a neutral color so that you avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself (My bight pink backpack basically screamed, “Pillage me, pillage me”).

What to Pack in Your Carry On?

Some of the items on this list, are kind of like,, “Well duh Kelly, that was pretty obvious. So lame.” But the reason I put the obvious items on the list is as a reminder so that you don’t forget the most important items of all. That and it’s also a convenient way to create a check list that you can use to tick off all the items you have, so that you don;t forget anything.

But while some of these items are pretty obvious, I hope that there are some things here that come as a pleasant surprise to you. My only hope is that you will see a few essentials that make your long haul flight a lot more comfortable and maybe, just maybe, a bit more fun.

  1. Passport – This one is kind of like, “DUH Kelly!! How else would I get on my flight?” Yeah, I know. But it’s here to remind you to make sure you have it at all times. That and it’s a good idea to have a copy handy in case the unthinkable happens and you lose it.
  2. Reading Material/Travel Journal/Pens/Pencils – The worst is when you get on a long haul flight and all the movies stink, or you have seen them all and don’t really want to watch them again. To ensure that you
    What to pack in your carry on? You can never go wrong with Diet Coke. Diet Coke is ALWAYS in style for me. LoL.

    don’t become bored to tears watching the couple next to you giving each other smoochie faces, bring a book that you can pull out and occupy your time with. That or you could have a journal handy so that you can write down your thoughts or research more about your trip (pens are also helpful when filling out customs forms).

  3. Guide Book – I always buy the most recent edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook for the destination I am visiting. And I always find that your flight is a great time to research your trip, create a list of what you want to see and do, and basically just get insanely excited for all the cool places that you are about to explore.
  4. Water – Gotta stay hydrated, especially at 50,000 feet where the air is a lot dryer. Now, please don’t hate me but I am not that healthy and don’t drink THAT much water. My drink of choice is Diet Coke. No for real, I am a Diet Coke monger. I know it’s bad but I just love it and find water kind of boring, but the premise is the same. Drink a lot so that you don’t feel awful when you land. That and if you have your own supply, you don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to make
    What to pack in your carry on?? Don’t forget your wallet! Can’t leave home without it.

    the long, arduous journey down the aisles of the plane (This journey always seems ten times longer when you are dying of thirst).

  5. Wallet – Pretty obvious, I know. But you gotta make sure you have enough money to buy all that water in the airport, or in my case Diet Coke.
  6. SNACKS!!! – I LOVE food!! It makes me so happy, but the food on airplanes usually does not.
    That or you have to wait half the flight to get a bag of peanuts, which then turns out to be $19.95, plus tax. To avoid paying too much or participating in an impromptu episode of the Hunger Games,  bring some protein bars or whatever else is your favorite snack. I usually go with protein bars because they’re yummy, healthy, and keep me feeling full with lots of protein.
  7. Sleeping Pills, Eye Mask, Neck Pillow, and Ear Plugs – Sometimes, I feel like the worst sleeper in the world. And it sucks when you’re on a flight and you have to endure the arduous journey while everyone else is happily drifting off into la la land. Or how about when you get seated next to the crying baby or the snorer heard round the world? Awful stuff for sure. To help you get the rest you need, pack all of these things, they seriously make sleep a lot easier. And for sleeping pills, I always pack 5 mg Melatonin. I know everyone is different, but Melatonin is natural and doesn’t leave me feeling groggy when I wake up. But just a word of caution, if you’re not used to it get the lowest dose possible because it is very potent.
  8. Sweatshirt/Extra Set of Clothes – This is essential!!! The flight can get cold and sometimes those airplane blankets are super thin, so pack a sweatshirt just in case. And the extra clothes come in handy in case they lose your luggage and you have nothing else to change  into.
  9. Cell Phone and Headphones – I like having my own headphones (I feel like they’re better quality) and my cellphone. That way if I want to drown out the noise around me, I can just crank up the tunes and just drift away. It’s also handy when someone is chatty and you really have no desire to talk to them (The universal sign for don’t talk to me).
  10. Cell Phone Charger – I love those portable, cell phone battery blocks because it’s so nice to pull them out and recharge your cellphone when its low. I am so dependent on my cellphone that i almost get anxiety when the battery runs low. LOL. So to keep me at ease, I always carry the portable battery and charge it fully before I ever leave my house. That way I
    Gotta have your brush so you can do your hair!!! Never know who you’re gonna meet!

    don’t have to troll for a wall outlet in the airport or rely on sometimes faulty airplane outlets.

  11. Glasses and Contacts Case – I always bring my glasses and my contacts case just in case my eyes get dry and I need to change into my glasses. Nothing worse than contacts that hurt your eyes. Bleh.
  12. Important Trip Documents – I always keep all my important travel documents
    on me so that I don’t lose any of them. I also don’t want to dig through  my luggage to try and find my hotel address after a long flight. That’s why keep it all in my carry on and keep it handy. Makes life a whole lot easier.
  13. Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Face Wash, Brush, Deodorant, and Tampons (or whatever
    feminine products you use)
    – I always bring little travel size, personal hygiene items so that I don’t feel funky and gross when I step off of the plane. You may not be able to take a shower on the plane, but these items can help you feel fresh and rejuvenated when you arrive. I mean let’s be real, no one wants to smell like a barn yard when they step off a plane. It doesn’t feel good and the other passengers won’t thank you.



Nanny by day and travel blogger any other time.

I love writing and traveling and bearing my soul on the page.
I want to inspire others to face their fears and join me on an adventure.


  • Becky Angell 9 months ago

    Awesome thanks Kelly, I think I am pretty good at packing hand luggage although I wish I had a change of clothes in my bag instead of gifts for my family when I got stranded in the snow in Istanbul for 2 days ????????????

    • Kelly Ann Duhigg 9 months ago

      Oh god. That sounds dreadful for sure. I hate when that happens and you are basically stranded with only the clothes on your back. No FUN!

  • Rob Taylor 3 months ago

    I’m so glad you pack a guide book. I do that too and totally have to reference it randomly, and if nothing else, it’s great motivation and build up to visiting a new place.

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